Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Love To Live For

This past Sunday in Rome the Church celebrated the canonization of Saint John Henry Newman (1801-1890), the famous English convert to Catholicism via the Anglican Oxford Movement, the movement which also gave us Francis Baker, Augustine Hewit, and Clarence Walworth here in the United States.

Newman, whose life spanned almost all of the 19th century, never visited the United States, but Isaac Hecker visited him several times in England. After Hecker's death, Cardinal Newman wrote to Hewit: "I have ever felt that there was this sort of unity in our lives - that we had both begun a work of the same kind, he in America and I in England, and I know how zealous he was in promoting it."

Both men had much earlier set out on a journey - Newman from a respected position in the Established Church, Hecker from a somewhat unchurched background - and both had finally found a home. Once there, both understood in the depths of their hearts what a treasure they had found, that their journey was done, and that they really were at home, the home God had made for them in his Church.

Karl Marx famously called religion "the heart of a heartless world." and both Newman and Hecker found in the Church not just an answer to their questions but a powerfully beating heart overflowing with a love to live for. both shared a common priestly calling, captivated by the abiding presence and action of the Holy Spirit, and a ministry expressed in prayer, preaching, and writing, devoted to guiding others - especially others like themselves - to find the same home, and so spread Christ's kingdom to every human heart.

Zealous, big-hearted men themselves, the home they cherished was bog as well - big enough to open its doors to be shared with everyone else, everyone still on life's seemingly so treacherous road. That road may be much more crowded and treacherous today, in a much changed society which seems to resist finding any real  home and would rather risk perpetual disappointment and dissatisfaction. 

All the more reason, then, to recall Hecker's hope that a common home and shared love can overcome the conflicts and hatreds that divide our society. All the more need, then, to emulate the heroic virtue of these two great men of the Church, so that all may finally find a home, where the noise of our increasingly heartless world is hushed by the angelic hymn in Neman's famous poem published in Hecker's magazine The Catholic World in 1865:

Praise to the holiest in the height
And int he depths be praise
In all his words most wonderful
Most sure in all his ways.

(Photo: Image of Saint John Henry Newman displayed at Saint Peter's Basilica during his Canonization, October 13, 2019.) 

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